Estimated reading time — 9 minutes
Someone traveling through the barren mesas and valleys of the Dry Mule Tank would be very fortunate to find civilization. In these parts, the land is unclaimed and the sun is unrelenting, the dried creek beds running like veins through the ancient ground, baked and eroded into submission. Solemn, red plateaus rise above the dusty horizon, dotted with desert scrub and the occasional decrepit tree. A land truly forsaken by God, some might think. A few townsfolk of Trementina believe the opposite.
Trementina: a small, hollow shell of what once may have been a pleasant place to live. Although it stands in a hostile place like the Dry Mule Tank, it still manages to have 200 persevering residents: a quiet, simple type of folk. Trementina is also a pitstop for tragic runaways and wanna-be desperadoes, making a mad dash into the New Mexican wilderness in an attempt to escape their bitter pasts. A few of the nomadic tramps that passed through decided to stay, ensnared by the enchanting solitude and tranquility. However, they have long since abandoned the place, after an event a couple years ago that made the small village quake in its boots. It echoed throughout the quiet mesas as a story told by firelight, and has since dissipated into something taboo, something few people know and wish to remember. I, being one of the elders of Trementina, know the story all too well.
Strange children coming into the town and being gone without a trace the next day was not an odd occurrence. In fact, it was the norm at this point. About 3 new faces would come and go each week, usually nameless, usually quiet and purposeful. They never hung around for long. Every once in a while, we’d get some old bum or homesick runaway who would stumble around mindlessly and eventually settle down in a squat shack on the outskirts of the village. There was a very small community of vagrants a mile or two north of town, leeching off whoever was generous enough to flip them a few coins when they roamed the streets. Some of them were mentally ill, but didn’t seem to pose any threat. Besides, our small town of Trementina didn’t have the resources or a competent enough police force to oust them.
It was routine to see the small flock of tramps loiter around the general store and the post office in the afternoon. That’s why it was so strange to see a completely new figure walk pointedly through people’s front lawns in the early hours of the morning. At first it was dismissed as nothing more than another runaway stopping at the village to restock and move on to Albuquerque or Santa Fe, but multiple reports of this figure trampling people’s gardens at 3 AM over and over again spiked suspicion.
We found out later from one of the vagrants that the garden assailant was a young girl, maybe 16 or 17. Her name was Sparrow, with no apparent last name or history. The vagrant said that all he knew was she came through the settlement a few nights ago and had been living in an old shed close to the small school house and playground. She didn’t seem dangerous, but the grass-flattening would have to be stopped.
One night, I woke up with a start. Checking the antiquated clock I kept in my bedroom, I saw that it was about 3 in the morning. I sighed and tried to go back to sleep, and sighed again when I figured out I couldn’t. Realizing that my throat was incredibly dry, I got up and hobbled to the kitchen to get some water. I lived alone in a plain, two roomed ranch style house in a cluster of buildings in the town Trementina, hardly enough to be called a suburb. As I shuffled over to the fridge, I saw something out the corner of my eye in the front yard. I gazed out the window and squinted into the darkness. I could barely make out two figures moving in a circle, in a formation something reminiscent of an ancient rain dance. I immediately thought that one of these silhouettes could be the grass stomper my neighbors had been complaining about.
I quickly turned on the light switch in the kitchen (I usually leave it off when I get a drink since I know the house like the back of my hand), startling the two people in my lawn. They whipped their heads around and stared at me before rushing off down the street. I quickly limped over to the door, flung it open, and shouted out to them.
But they had already disappeared into the cold New Mexican night.
I sat down at the crude table in my cramped dining room, reflecting on what I had seen when I turned on the light. The first person I caught a glimpse of was an old woman in tattered coats and old khaki pants with hiking boots that looked like they traversed the whole South West, and probably had. She had a drooping, wilted face and sunken-in eyes, like two white stones slowly being submerged in a thick swamp. She hardly had any hair left, and what was left was brushed wildly to the side of her head. I recognized her as one of the tramps who I had often seen at the post office, talking to herself, using wild hand motions when she spoke.
The second figure I had never seen before, and based of descriptions I had heard, I concluded she was the garden trampler, Sparrow, who lived next to the school. She was a young Navajo girl, 16 or 17, dressed in an old, wool coat with tribal designs, jeans, and dusty moccasins. She wore a heavy wreath of colorful, beaded necklaces around her neck that glinted in the desert moonlight. Her long, dark hair hung in twin, limp braids around her angular face and her eyebrows furrowed seemingly in pain. The thing that stood out the most about her, though, were her eyes, green and disproportionally huge, shining with a feral gleam. She had dark bags under them, as if she hadn’t gotten enough sleep for a while. Long, vertical scars that looked like a vicious animal had mauled her ran from her eyebrows, across her eyes, and down to her cheeks.
Her pupils contracted like a desert owl when the light landed on them, and her face scrunched up in pain as she yelled something to her companion and dashed away silently, the old woman rushing surprisingly quickly after her.
Every other time I had seen this old woman, she could barely walk at a tortoise’s pace. I brushed it off and decided to assess the damage to my yard in the morning.
A few days later, I was walking to the general store when I overheard a conversation between two children.
“Yeah, the scratches were pretty bad. I think they had to drive them up to Albuquerque to get stitches,” the one with the straw cowboy hat said.
“You think school’s gonna be closed for the rest of the week?” asked the other.
“Probably. I heard the teachers talking about how that crazy girl who lives in the shed ran out into the playground and mauled them. Jesse said he saw it happen, too.”
The children continued down the dusty road and their conversation faded into incoherent murmurs.
A couple of weeks had passed since I saw Sparrow and the woman in my lawn. I noticed that the flock of vagrants who sat around the post office had dwindled from 10 to 3, and some days, only 1. The school had reopened after the mauling incident, only to send 4 more kids off to Albuquerque to get sewn up. The scratching had been passed off as attacks from a wild animal, since the kids were unwilling to talk to authorities.
The reports of grass trampling had grown more frequent. One morning, I gazed out my kitchen window to find huge circles of grass and shrubs in my lawn trampled down into the earth. I felt rage shake me down to my old, creaking bones. This had to stop, now!
That night I decided to keep all the lights off and wait by the kitchen window for the vandals who had been destroying my yard. It was around 3 in the morning and I was dozing off when I suddenly heard faint footsteps, lots of them. I snapped my head up and peered out the glass to find at least 8 shadowy figures performing what looked like some sort of ritual on my lawn.
After watching them for about 10 minutes, I decided to turn on the light again and scatter them. When I switched on the light, I immediately ran to the window so I could try to recognize some of the dancers. My gaze was drawn first to Sparrow, who squinted her eyes in pain, and gave me a look of pure rage and animosity before rushing off into the wilderness like a rabid coyote. The rest of the people were the familiar faces of the vagrants who gathered at the post office. As they started to run off following Sparrow, I saw one man stumbling to get away, obviously with a crippling limp.
I shuffled to the door and walked out into the night, resonating with the sound of cicadas, and rushed as fast as I could towards the man. I grabbed his wrist and he let out an animalistic howl, staring at me with eyes full of fear.
“Now can you tell me what you and you’re friends have been doing, trampling my lawn?” I asked, trying to make my quavering voice sound demanding.
“Get off me, old man!” he screeched as he redoubled his efforts to escape. Despite being old, I have a strong grip. “What do you want?”
“I want to know why you come into my yard almost every night,” I said, surprisingly calmly.
“I have to follow the Messiah wherever and in whatever she does, or be shunned by the Light! Now please, let me go!”
I stared at him, unblinkingly, “What do you mean by Messiah?”
“Let me go and I’ll tell you.”
I hesitantly let go of his wrist and he turned around fully to face me. I suddenly felt a pulse of fear in my feeble heart, wondering if he was dangerous. He just slumped his shoulders and and sighed.
I listened silently while he explained to me about the Messiah, the miracle worker, as the troop of vagrants and runaways called Sparrow. He told me how she was a “thetan,” a new Jesus, a pure soul, sent to earth in the form of a girl in order to cleanse us of our past and our sins, and that him and the others were her disciples. He quickly told me of how she had cured the illnesses and physical disabilities of many of her followers, seemingly by magic.
“She shall make the ultimate sacrifice soon,” he hastily whispered before limping into the dark.
I was surprised that the grass stomping had stopped, but even more surprised when I heard the police report about the body. A man metal detecting on a mesa said he saw vultures circling around something on the ground. Upon closer inspection, he saw that it was a girl. Sparrow. She had been crucified on a crude cross made of splintering planks that had collapsed and left her on the ground. Her hands and feet had been driven through with large, industrial nails, and had a fatal stab in her right side, oozing fresh blood. She had not been dead for long. The man called police, who, after a short investigation, took some of Sparrow’s homeless followers into captivity. Her body was sent to a makeshift morgue (murder hardly happened in Trementina) for further forensic examination.
After the initial shock of hearing what happened, I had eventually forgotten about it. I swore I felt angry eyes on me whenever I went to get a drink from the kitchen at night.
During the time that the vagrants stayed in the holding cells at the small Trementina prison, they continuously screamed to be released and that someone is in their room. When officers went to check, the room was always empty except the prisoner. Playing it off as a way to get attention, the prison guards ignored the cries for forgiveness that echoed throughout the halls at nighttime and the pleas to be released during the day.
3 days after Sparrow’s body had been found, it was missing from the morgue. Smears of blood on the cold, tiled floor, much like the ones found on the hard ground where the crucifixion took place, showed evidence of a body being dragged. Later the same day, the prison fell uncharacteristically silent. When the prison guards went to give the prisoners their lunch, they were all found dead in their cells.
There were obvious signs of a struggle in each cell, the minimalistic prison furniture strewn about the rooms like a dust storm had raged through the building. Each body was laid haphazardly on the ground and had various wounds, all from some type of blunt force. Scratched into each wall was the message, “They have been saved.”
The other runaways and vagrants who weren’t arrested were never seen again. The investigation on the murder of Sparrow and her “disciples” continued for years, until it was later dropped due to all the evidence leading to dead ends. No one really cared about these people dying anyway, and were in fact at ease that their gardens weren’t being trampled anymore.
For a long time, I felt the furious gaze of something or someone outside whenever I entered the kitchen at night. In bed, I swore I heard faint whispers of “Tell me, sir, have you been saved?” After some time, the gaze and the whispers disappeared.
Some say that you can see Sparrow’s silhouette running at almost inhuman speeds along the mesa tops at night, braids flying in the wind, and campers swear on their life that they saw a girl with holes in her hands watching them from afar just before sunrise. Some campers never lived to testify. Parents occasionally told their children that The Messiah would get them if they weren’t home by dark. Some kids came home late with strange scratches on their faces. People will tell you to always keep a light on when you travel through the Dry Mule Tank in order to ward her spirit off. Others will advise to bear crucifixes and holy water. My bit of wisdom, before I die; stay as far away from this wretched place as you can.